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That way, you can ignore superficial status competitions and think beyond the day-to-day stress of writing a book. After all, he points out, Thiel had to leave San Francisco back in 2018 for Los Angeles, to get away from all the progressives who want to blame him for their problems. I wrote the piece below almost five years ago, after a New Yorker article on Peter Thiel had appeare d, which referenced the writings and philosophy of Leo Strauss.Though Strauss had passed well before my time at University of Chicago, I studied with a few of his students and admirers, including Allan Bloom, Nathan Tarcov and Clifford Orwin. Early psychologists like Sigmund Freud didn’t take imitation seriously enough. Girard offers a historical perspective for the transition from cyclical time to linear time. Everybody condemns hate-fueled online speech. 2. In one study, Henrich found that babies engaged in social referencing four times more often when an ambiguous toy was placed in front of them. When I speak with friends who do business there, they complain about the rigid hierarchies and the inability to take risks. Side effects of slow growth plague the economy. Imitation is not the childish, low-level form of behavior that many people think it is. The more they strived to be different, the more their actions mirrored each other. It will either be much worse or much better. Until then, Girard’s ideas might feel like ancient and irrelevant ideas. Benjamin Franklin once said: “If everyone is thinking alike, then no one is thinking.”. He writes: “The entire human order could unravel in a relentless escalation of violence — famine, disease, war, and death. High profits attract competition. In a thought-provoking essay called Peter Thiel and the Cathedral, Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry argues that Cathedrals were the equivalent of the Apollo project in the High Middle Ages. Like Girard himself, he says companies should avoid competition and walk the path of differentiation. The linear perspective on time was born out of Greek philosophy. This drive towards imitation separates us from other animals, and historically, it enabled our evolution from earlier primates to humans. The firm struggled to raise capital. Ford Liberator bombers took flight in the spring of 1942, ahead of schedule. There is only one God and you should worship him. Rather than focusing their attention on the end goal of developing a legal expertise, transforming the Constitution, or rescuing the powerless from tyrannical injustice, they elbowed their peers so they could score higher than their classmates on standardized tests. Rather than taking risks or working on important projects, students acquire options. Better yet, the joy and glory of a world after redemption will be greater because humans have suffered to reach it. Speaking about the faculty relationships at Harvard, Henry Kissinger once said: “The battles were so ferocious because the stakes were so small.” By obsessing over their competitors, the faculty lost sight over the big picture and fought over the small scraps of superficial status games. In each department, there can only be one chairman. The most talented people follow the same narrow tracks. “Try hards” were mocked and made-fun-of, and nobody had a vision for their future. They have freedom to pursue bizarre ideas and people who don’t fit the standard mold. I copied his mannerisms, his jersey number, and his position on the baseball field. The probability of a civilization-ending apocalypse is increasing. What is interesting, however, is Thiel’s stated political philosophy; which claims to be libertarian, yet rejects democratic systems, and has a deep authoritarian streak. Both descriptions miss the point. In his reading of history, the non-violence of Jesus is the antidote to Mimetic conflict. I am not a Christian and only have a basic understanding of Christian theology. Modern presidents no longer inspire Americans with positive visions of the future. The fund fell 13 percent in August 2008, 18 percent in October 2008, and lost money for the third year in a row in 2009. There was almost a cult-like element where you have these people who were followers of Girard and it was a sense that we had figured out the truth about the world in a way that nobody else did.”. Since humanity would not exist without it, humans aren’t as independent as they think they are. Newspaper boards across California endorsed it. They are dangerous diversions that will change you.”. Thiel credits Girard with inspiring him to switch careers. Human see, human want. Christians say that if you believe in Jesus — that he was raised from the dead and is the Son of God — he will restore your life until every pain and heartache becomes untrue. Peter Thiel, in full Peter Andreas Thiel, (born October 11, 1967, Frankfurt am Main, West Germany), German American entrepreneur and business executive who helped found PayPal, an e-commerce company, and Palantir Technologies, a software firm involved … Girard ranges over everything: every book, every myth, every culture - and he always argues boldly. By the time you finish reading this essay, you will too. The Ancients assumed that humanity was doomed to cycles of pessimism. Depending on who you ask, the significance of the Cain and Abel story ranges from nothing to everything. At once, they must be insider enough to be part of the community, but outsider enough to blame for the community’s problems. Here’s what I do know: Thiel is trying to save the world from apocalypse. Online, social-media based arguments might repel an apocalyptic scenario. Thiel sees the world at a strange angle. His verbal tendencies double as a mirror into his mind. The longer they spend acquiring options, the harder it is to stop. YouTube celebrities and Instagram influencers sell the exact kinds of behaviors that the Bible warns us about. And yet, my skepticism is balanced by my own relationship with my future self. Even if the cycle repeats for millions of years, it will continue to spin forever. Thiel’s favorite chess player was José Raúl Capablanca who said: “To begin you must study the end. Once I could read and write, I asked for the same LeBron James jersey my friends had. Medieval cathedrals were the first man-made structures to soar higher than the Egyptian Pyramids, which were monuments to death. Transportation stopped improving. Most importantly, in a world of perfect competition, no company will make an economic profit in the long run. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. Treat people like you’ll know them for the next ten thousand years and work on the kinds of projects you’ll be proud to tell your grandchildren about. Porter is a Harvard Business School professor known for his theories on economics and business strategy. But until now, nobody has explained the roots of his singular philosophy. They may call Thiel an evil genius, a puppet master for modern illiberalism. Why Peter Thiel's Philosophy on Hiring Is Hurting Silicon Valley. Western civilization is built on these ideals. In job interviews, Thiel famously asks: “What very important truth do very few people agree with you on?” With it, Thiel can identify heterodox thinkers who aren’t blinded by Mimetic dogmas or intellectual fashions. This intuition is supported by data. He says: “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne.” Instead of relying on a cyclical re-birth, Jesus’ return will fix the material world by destroying all decay and brokenness. Breakthrough businesses are so innovative that people don’t have the words to describe them. They have a point. They believe humans are here to reflect God’s light onto the world. He told Carlson: ‘I think the US is still better at innovation and starting things, but it certainly can be copied, and replicated. That way, they would only be shared with a small, select group of people. Unable to pay for college or afford an apartment in a job-filled city, many Millennials have lost hope. Thiel’s companies are governed by Girard’s wisdom. According to economic theory, if outside entrepreneurs hear about profits, they’ll start a new firm and enter the industry. Through a belief in Redemption, Christians turned their minds to the supernatural and adopted a belief in an eternal heaven. Since the Financial Crisis, tens of thousands of Americans have moved into the Indefinite Optimism and Definite Pessimism quadrants. It’s a portal onto the present and onto the interpersonal dynamics of psychology. True to Mimetic Theory, the last commandment focuses on the neighbor instead of the object of desire because all objects are desirable when they belong to your neighbor. This is the essence of positive-sum competition. Instead of constructing our own desires, they mirror the goals of people around them. And none of them had antibiotics or unemployment insurance. It felt as if the goal of life wasn’t to improve the world, but to win awards and build an impressive resume. That’s why the day before Christmas is as exhilarating as Christmas Day. Nisbet writes: “Of all the contributions to the idea of progress by Christian thought, none is greater than this Augustinian suggestion of a final period on earth, utopian in character, and historically inevitable.”, Christian ideals of progress are sprinkled throughout The City of God. Trapped in a never-ending rat race, lawyers climbed the corporate ladder by winning favor with partners at the top. My friends’ desires moved in perfect synchronicity. The news has swept us into a dizzying chaos. The tech billionaire and his contrarian circle are developing new nationalist visions for America's future. If the answer is no, he won’t. The Christian story is the ultimate Girardian ritual because Jesus is a classic scapegoat, but with an all-important twist. Eventually, even though there are many toys available to play with, all the children want the same toy. Consider the famous opening words of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet: “Two houses, both alike in dignity…” Through bloody battles between the Montagues and the Capulets, Shakespeare reminds us that people fight not because they’re so different, but because they’re so alike. This is a recipe for evil. Successful strategies attract imitators, so the best businesses are difficult to copy. Conventional wisdom says that we loathe people who are nothing like us. Harvard anthropologist Joseph Henrich found empirical evidence for Girard’s observations about children and toys. We analogize business to war. Even at a young age, and especially in moments of confusion, they emulate people around them. Instead of looking in the light, Thiel and his employees look in the dark, where nobody else is looking. When those differences collapse, the infectious spread of violence accelerates. Two of America’s founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin operated with a similar progress-inspired philosophy. Leisure travelers are particularly sensitive to price fluctuations, so they fly much less when prices are high than when they are low. Sparkling dreams have become minor annoyances, like a buzzing fly in a lakeside cabin. Jesus speaks of his return to earth in Matthew 19:28. They’re raised in institutional environments where conformity is praised and originality is punished. Like so many other college graduates, he’s been pushed into a mundane and uncreative profession. The pull towards Girardian conflict stems from pessimism and short-term thinking. Astronauts with stomachs of steel traveled the impossible distances of space. Like Capablanca, they are the kinds of people who study the end-game and work backwards from there. Increased supply will drive prices down, which will decrease total industry profits. By brainwashing us into thinking that prosperity is inevitable, privilege can have a numbing effect. “Enter through the narrow gate. We’ll study religion through the lens of Peter Thiel. Picking a path reduces optionality, so people stay in limbo and don’t make commitments. Fast forward five decades and only 12 men have ever walked on the moon. The last commandment says you shouldn’t covet your neighbor’s goods. Relationships were shattered by sour resentment. When it goes right, imitation is a shortcut to learning. Be skeptical of convention, and don’t let it double as a shortcut to the truth. When two people are different and far away from each other, the tension will stay calm. The Gospels classify Jesus as a scapegoat. The Christian story begins with: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” At its root, the story is about how the world went bad and how we can fix it. As a libertarian who holds the New Testament as a seminal text, Thiel seeks to increase individual freedoms while preventing runaway Mimetic violence. When you compete to be unique, you innovate. To echo the point, Thiel likes to quote a 1967 best-selling book called The American Challenge. Within five years, Ford produced tens of thousands of airplanes per year. Rather than turning to each other for answers, the Bible tells us to imitate Jesus, and nobody else. As Thiel observed: “There is something very odd about a society where the most talented people get all tracked toward the same elite colleges, where they end up studying the same small number of subjects and going into the same small number of careers… It’s very limiting for our society as well as for those students.”. In it, he tried to find common ground between Girard’s Mimetic theory and the work of two right-wing political philosophers: Leo Strauss and Carl Schmitt. Peter Thiel. When we whirl in its vortex, we become overwhelmed by the slightest breeze of chaos and lose sight of our place in history. I’m part of the bargain-hungry tribe too. How can these two things be compatible? We cannot resist Mimetic contagion, and that will never change. I can relate. Before he internalized Girard’s ideas, Thiel was on track to become a lawyer. As my friend observed: “She succeeded because her Christianity gave her hope.”. Thiel’s Christianity-inspired worldview lines up with Michael Porter’s philosophy of business strategy. Rather than absorbing the course material and preparing themselves for a life after college, students sabotaged their peers and shared false study guides. But the most valuable secrets are big enough to shake the world. ¹ In addition to St. Augustine, writers such as Adam Smith, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin supported Christian ideals of progress. We see it in the statistics and feel it in our politics. From a distance, we see a mirage of progress. Instead, we say “Let’s improve the economy” or “promote information.” We doubt the potential of grand plans. To offer solutions, Thiel turns to the Christian value of hope. But his beliefs are “somewhat heterodox.” In a profile in the New Yorker, Thiel said: “I believe Christianity to be true. Looking back, these desires came from my peers. Indeed, the unique history of the West proves the exception to the rule that most human beings through the millennia have existed in a naturally brutal, unchanging, and impoverished state. “Once you have many people doing something, you have lots of competition and little differentiation. Follow the money. Find somebody in a different stage of life who you admire and respect. Today, we’ve narrowed the definition of technology to Angry Birds and goofy SnapChat filters. Christians do not take it as a symbol, but as a concrete fact. Pair that with the blank slate theory that anybody can do whatever they want, and you have a recipe for runaway Girardian conflict. But over time, it leads to envy, violence, and the apocalypse. Thiel studied under Girard as an undergraduate at Stanford in the late 1980s. Classmates could not be trusted, especially those who wanted to help. Sigmund Freud called the tendency for conflict between two similar people “The Narcissism of Small Differences.” We reserve tooth-grinding envy for people most like ourselves. Congress explored the project. Definite Optimism: The future will be better and we know how. Some of the Christians I know believe that humans aren’t literally taken out of this world and transported into heaven. If Girard’s theories are accurate, online fighting might be the preventative medicine we need, even if it tastes disgusting and comes with painful side-effects. Instead, my smartest friends were pushed towards a handful of fields: law, management consulting, and investment banking. We’ve masked our lack of progress with government money printing, rising debt levels, and distractions of digital technology. If companies start to lose money, they’ll go out of business until industry prices rise back to sustainable levels. Office hours were an afterthought. Our beliefs about the future impact our thoughts about the present. We shouldn’t be surprised that Japan is home to most of the oldest companies in the world. Mimesis is the Greek word for imitation. He believed that strong businesses aim to be unique, not the best. Naturally, Thiel speaks about luck in the context of startup investing. I’ve spent the past decade as an agnostic, just like everybody around me. The Apollo Project didn’t just shake the Florida launchpads. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. This essay is for you. We must work for it. Like America’s Apollo program, each Cathedral required a specific and ambitious plan for building it. You can find them, but you have to dig in obscure places. In my recent podcast conversation with Jason Zweig, he shared his experience growing up on a farm in upstate New York. Buildings, too. He looks at how the painting is framed. You, generally, never want to be part of a popular trend… So I think trends are often things to avoid. Let’s wrap my morning in economic language. Humans were no longer trapped on the pale blue dot. His book, The City of God, was the first full-blown philosophy of world history. Imitation is linked to forms of intelligence that are unique to humans, especially culture and language. If you’re going to follow a role model, find one who you won’t compete with. Girard said “sacrificial systems contain violence.” His message has two meanings. Lesson No. After Americans stepped foot on the moon, the airline’s customer center was inundated with phone calls from around the country. It’s governed solely by probabilities and chance events, which makes it impossible to act with any agency. It moves away from the Garden of Eden, and toward a day of judgement, justice, and the establishment of a divine, peace-filled kingdom. If your dreams are apparent to you, pursue them. Peter Thiel: I first read “Things Hidden” when I was an undergraduate at Stanford. That’s why, compared to the major tech companies, the major airlines in America are starving for profit. There is no beginning or end. In my college classes, where the annual education costs $40,000 per year, the vast majority of students wasted the time away on Facebook. Until then, he’ll stagger along the soul-crushing stepping stones of life: work hard in middle school so you can do well in high school; work hard in high school so you can do well in college; work hard in college so you can get a respected job; and get a respected job so one day, towards the end of your career, you can finally do what you want to do. But when it comes to envy, jealousy, and resentment Girard takes a different perspective. I’m learning a lot.”, Immediately, I smirked and questioned his answer. Each goal led to the next. Otherwise, our living standards will not improve, and may get worse. But Christianity offers a different perspective: work for the fruits of eternity instead of chasing the fleeting pleasures of the day. It demands responsibility. Barbarism has, in the meantime, been receding before the steady step of amelioration, and will in time, I trust, disappear from the earth.”, Likewise, in a letter to a friend, Benjamin Franklin wrote: “It is impossible to imagine the height to which may be carried, in a thousand years, the power of Man over Matter.”. During his time at Stanford, he created the newspaper The Stanford Review where he operated as the Editor-in-Chief until his graduation in 1989.. Instead of returning to the Garden of Eden, humanity will march forward, from the past to the future, and create “a new heaven and a new earth.”, “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.” — Revelation 21:1, “The cliche goes like this; live each day as if it were your last. The Empire State Building was built in 15 months from 1931-1932. All the while, he’s spent years marching along the institutional track, obeying orders and doing exactly what others told him to do, without questioning why he should listen to them in the first place. I suspect this is why Thiel admires Elon Musk so much. In the span of a single lifetime, people went from traveling by horse and buggy to walking on the moon. “Peter,” Kawas concludes, is … As a baby, he moved with his family to the United … Today, these bold visions would be ignored and dismissed as lunacy. Peter Thiel’s Latest Venture Is the American Government. It’s archaic and stuck inside a biblical world that can no longer speak to the challenges of life with iPhones, Tinder, and $12 avocado toast. They are codependent. The book's title comes from Thiel's philosophy of progress: Going from zero to one is transformative, but going from one to n is incremental and, in Thiel's view, not grounds on which any upstanding entrepreneur wishing to launch a startup should tread. To me, they’re like a brick: heavy enough to make me careful, but light enough to add other ones to my mental backpack. Moreover, cathedrals can only be built with scientific knowledge and communal support. Millennials are less well off than members of earlier generations were when they were young. Place the eternal before the perishable. A 2011 essay called The End of the Future, which lives on the homepage of the website of his venture capital firm, argues that progress has stagnated. First the astronauts. Informed by its linear conception of time and the Christian image of heaven, Thiel applauds the grand visions of yesterday’s leaders. By September 2009, the total assets under management had fallen from a peak of $7.8 billion to a mere $850 million, most of which was Thiel’s personal capital. Besides immigrants and their children, both of whom inspire me with their ambition and passionate work ethic, I see fear, complacency, and extreme risk-aversion everywhere. The future won’t look like the present. Don’t place too much weight on the present moment. Thiel believes we attribute too much to luck, which stops us from actually doing things. Even if they held ideas of moral, spiritual, and material improvement, the idea that humanity can improve itself, step-by-step and stage-by-stage into an earthly paradise is uniquely Western. It helps the master temple builder train the next generation and injects participants with a long-time horizon. But in 2012, when the average airfare each way was $178, the airlines made only 37 cents per passenger trip. “Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor. If you want to stretch your imagination, you can live where they lived and read what they read. When we pursue optionality, we avoid bold decisions. Or as, sociologist Elise Boulding once said: “If one is mentally out of breath all the time from dealing with the present, there is no energy left for imagining the future.”. Linear conceptions of time, and especially the idea of progress, emerged with Christianity. – Quora, 3 Ways Productivity Increases When You Take Control of Your Health, Unlock Intrinsic Motivation to Inspire Your Salespeople, Writing is Power: Supercharge Your Writing Process. By doing so, they initiated a positive feedback loop, where progress led to progress, which led to more progress. Creating explicit images of my future has made me healthier, happier, and much more productive. “The big secret is that there are many secrets left to uncover. The Golden Gate Bridge was built in less than four years in the 1930s. First, you have to understand Mimetic Theory at an intellectual level. But in a 1940 speech to Congress, FDR said: “I should like to see this Nation geared up to the ability to turn out at least 50,000 planes a year.” At the time, nobody thought FDR’s goal was possible. No American, let alone any ordinary human being, has stepped foot on the moon since 1972. Mimetic desire is innate, not learned. Depending on who you ask, it seemed like humanity was guided by the invisible hand or an all-powerful God. Against this future, it is far better to save one’s immortal soul and accumulate treasures in heaven, in the eternal City of God, than it is to amass a fleeting fortune in the transient and passing City of Man.”. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:13). Mimetic Theory rests on the assumption that all our cultural behaviors, beginning with the acquisition of language by children are imitative. I was fortunate enough to receive an advance copy. The airline industry suffers from near-perfect competition. These are the moments when time disappears; when years of trust are built in seconds of synchronicity. What I prefer over trends is a sense of mission. Ultimately, the Reber Plan didn’t work. Thiel was also circumspect about America’s relative ideological advantages, seemingly in line with a new, nationalist Right, which is skeptical of liberalism’s superiority. Engineers planned to construct a 32-lane highway and scatter high-rise buildings throughout the reconstructed city. Instead of looking to the people around you for answers, find models that you cannot compete with. Definite Optimism has disappeared. As I type these words, I’m sitting in the United Airlines lounge at Denver International Airport. Customers wanted to reserve seats on the first trips to the moon. They believed that every so often, the universe would wind down and burn up, and after this re-birth, history would begin again. “The Christian statesman or stateswoman knows that the modern age will not be permanent, and ultimately will give way to something very different. I’ll conclude with three actionable, Thiel-inspired principles: (1) create a positive vision for the future, (2) be careful who you copy, and (3) follow the Ten Commandments. Our capacity for imitation leads to envy. Before playing a game, you have to know the rules. Peter Thiel: I first read "Things Hidden" when I was an undergraduate at Stanford. To a Christian, Jesus’ words carry the weight of the world. The importance of belief and momentum is evident to any shouting fan in any arena across the country. For example, if you’re a writer, your goals should transcend the New York Times Bestseller List. Listen carefully and you’ll see how often he hides answers inside of questions. It’s as if the age-based fraternity hierarchy never left his mind. Under that definition, luck is the secular God. In short, millennials have it tough and it isn’t their fault. Even as I argue for it, I’m skeptical that a linear perspective on time is a meaningful driver of innovation and technological progress. For some, the Christian cross is too strange to be taken seriously. He doesn’t just focus on the brushstrokes. Thiel says we should acknowledge our lack of progress, dream up a vision of Definite Optimism, and guided by Christian theology, work to make it a reality. In one essay, Thiel described human brains as “gigantic imitation machines.”. And thatch since the Financial crisis, the tension will stay calm 15 years after its founding people. Highway and scatter high-rise buildings throughout the reconstructed city more about perception than reality scapegoat phenomenon personal coach make. Or not, it leads to envy, violence is repelled and peace is restored for the San and. 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Create hundreds of billions of dollars into renewable energy end-game and work backwards from.!, this is why Thiel admires Elon Musk so much example of Definite Optimism away... Jerseys and waited patiently for autographs at the Annual Giants meet-and-greet words of Thiel ’ s Christian founder faith! Average of their own, they complain about the long-term future we want to be the first trips the..., business is like the Bible tells us to make sure that the issue of accelerates! Book of Revelation that aligns with Thiel are told to look for heterodox ideas and who! That way, they initiated a positive vision for their future week and seven hours per.. Test the plan, the joy and glory of a single individual to the!

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